AUSTIN — Four experienced players were available to the media on Tuesday, although each had experience in different ways. Senior Trent Domingue has a few seasons of Division 1 experience at LSU, but this is his first at Texas. Senior Dylan Haines has been a mainstay in the defensive backfield, and sophomores Patrick Vahe and Connor Williams are coming off freshman All-America seasons. Each detailed their role, expectations and observations to the media.
Domingue details move to Austin
Senior kicker Trent Domingue did not expect to be in Austin for his senior year. If everything had gone as planned, he would still be in Baton Rouge trying to win the starting kicker job for Les Miles’ LSU Tigers. Instead, Miles did not renew Domingue’s scholarship, and he decided to use the graduate transfer rule to transfer to Texas to play immediately. While what happened at LSU caught him off-guard, Domingue is ready to do what he can for Texas.
“Things at LSU just kind of went a different way than I expected,” Domingue said. “That’s just life. You’ve got to move along. I’m definitely glad I made this decision because it’s an awesome place. I couldn’t really be in a better spot right now.”
Domingue, who was a semifinalist for the 2015 Lou Groza Award, had nothing bad to say about his time under Miles at LSU. He understands it was just part of college football, and is glad to have a new opportunity at a different school.
“The bottom line is that it is a business,” Domingue said. “Coaches are coaching for their livelihood and they’ve got to make business decisions. I respected that at LSU.”
However, Domingue does not view it as a negative. He is still happy to be on the 40.
“The good thing is, when one door closes another one opens,” Domingue said. “Definitely blessed to be here and around all these good people.”
Domingue ended up in Austin with help from his fiancé, now a doctoral student at the University of South Alabama.
“I kind of just was looking around,” Domingue said about his possible transfer options. “Actually, my fiancé Emily sent a link that said coach Strong was needing a kicker. I didn’t really think much of it at the time. I gathered all my resources and looked up the rosters.”
He also connected with defensive line coach Brick Haley, who coached at LSU when Domingue was there.
“I knew coach Brick,” Domingue said. “He’s awesome. I talk to him every day and we joke around and stuff.”
In his junior season at LSU, Domingue went 13-for-17 with a long make of 45 yards. He converted 55 of 56 PATs with an Alabama block as the lone unsuccessful attempt. Domingue’s feet were not used solely for kicking, as he also recorded the winning touchdown against Florida on a fake field goal run.
Now that he has settled in at Texas, both in football and in academics in the advertising graduate program, Domingue said he is ready to compete without any expectations of receiving the job.
“I don’t expect to come here and be the starting kicker,” Domingue said. “I want to compete and make sure that I’ve earned the job.”
Even after everything that happened in the offseason, Domingue is glad that he now has some certainty at Texas.
“This is where I’m meant to be, I believe,” Domingue said. “I’m really looking forward to the season we’re about to have. I can just tell by the mindset of the players and the coaches here that they don’t want to do what they did last season. They want to change it for this season.”
Haines talks ping-pong, team unity, and the quarterback battle
One of the more interesting storylines of the Longhorns’ offseason is not about on the field play, but rather on the table play. Ping pong, and freshman quarterback Shane Buechele’s ping pong acumen, has become a minor story after first being mentioned by Charlie Strong. Buechele reigned over the table in the player’s lounge until sophomore Breckyn Hager dethroned him. Senior Dylan Haines said he has brought his skill up on the table, and now is one of the best in the program.
“I’ve been improving a lot since we’ve been at camp,” Haines said. “I get to spend a lot of time in the player’s lounge, and I’ve been beating Hager just consistently, I’d like to let you all know. He’s beaten Shane. I haven’t beaten Shane yet, but my game is definitely better than Hager’s.”
All jokes aside, including the good natured rib at Hager, Haines said the ping pong table and other player’s lounge amenities have brought the team together.
“I think it’s awesome,” Haines said. “It used to be a spot where people would go and take naps. People would go and relax. We’ve added all these different games and stuff. It provides more areas for competition for the players, and it gets us all in there and al involved with talking with one another. I think it’s a better team builder aspect than it has been before.”
As a defensive back, Haines has a special view of how each of the two main quarterbacks competing for the starting role, Buechele and senior Tyrone Swoopes, are doing at practice. Haines said that Swoopes has improved since last season.
“Obviously, there’s not a clear starter and I think that’s been pointed out by coach Strong,” Haines said. “Everyone has to keep battling, keep making plays, and keep showing that they should be the starter. You see a lot of great things from Tyrone. He’s still improving as a player coming on his senior year and still getting better, still noticing things from a DB’s perspective that you would notice. Not making mistakes, making throws, making check downs when he should.”
Haines also noted how hard Buechele has worked during camp.
“You look at Shane, just a young kid,” Haines said. “You would expect from a true freshman to see a lot of mistakes and you just don’t.”
When asked what stood out about Buechele, Haines responded that it was part of his throwing ability that made him stand out early.
“I think it’s his touch on the ball,” Haines said. “He’s always had a good arm and always been a smart player. Now the touch he’s putting on the ball, putting it in the right space. When receivers are covered well, being able to put it in the spot where only the receiver can get it.”
Williams, Vahe talk o-line, playing side by side
Last season, Texas had three players earn freshman All-America accolades, Malik Jefferson, Connor Williams and Patrick Vahe. While Williams and Vahe are in the same position group, they were not literally fighting side by side. Now that Vahe has switched from right guard to left guard, he lines up just to the right of Williams. Both players are looking forward to lining up by each other.
“Patrick’s a great player to play next to,” Williams said. “Great run blocker and pass blocker. I’m excited playing next to him.”
Vahe expressed a similar sentiment.
“Me and Connor are good friends,” Vahe said. “He’s a good guy. He knows what he’s doing. We both have different types of ways to play the game. We try to put it together in unison basically.”
Now that he is lining up at left guard, Vahe must deal with a new set of challenges: the other side of the field.
“Assignments and who to go to,” Vahe answered when asked what was most difficult about the switch. “It’s a big change because you’re so used to seeing the right side of the field and now you’ve got to get used to seeing the left side of the field. It’s different.”
With the recent injury to freshman center Zack Shackelford, another position switch is not yet in Vahe’s cards. Vahe said he took some reps at center after practice “just in case.” Vahe said he played four games at center in high school, and called it pretty tough. In calling the position tough, he also took the opportunity to praise Shackelford.
“Playing next to Shack, he’s matured as a player,” Vahe said. “Coming from spring ball, I thought he’s been here for three years but he’s only been here six or seven months. This guy grew as a player. Really, it brings us together because we see he’s on the same page as us. It helps out a lot. He’s a real mature player.”
Now that Shackelford is nursing an injury, his reps are going to sophomore Jake McMillon. Williams said that McMillon is putting in the effort to learn the position.
“He’s working hard,” Williams said. “He’s spending extra time in the film room to make sure he gets his assignments right. He’s trying to understand the offense.”
Both players praised the freshman, both on the offensive and defensive line. Williams, who took on the role of a vocal leader this offseason, said he had a simple message for those coming in.
“Mostly put the stars behind them and put their head down, work hard, and stay humble,” Williams said. “Understand that there’s people that know more than you and to start learning from them and see the big picture.”
According to Vahe, they have taken Williams’ message to heart.
“They’re quick learners,” Vahe said about the freshman on the offensive line. “They’re hard workers. They’re just trying to play the game. We all have the same goal and that’s whenever we’re on the field, play for the man on the right and the man on your left and that’s pretty much it.”
Vahe even teaches the players he lines up against.
“I’m trying to break them in,” Vahe said specifically about the freshmen on the defensive line. “If I see something that they did wrong, I want to coach them up as well. Coming from an offensive standpoint, they would like to know what they’re doing wrong. Every now and then I’ll go against a defensive tackle that’s a freshman. I’ll tell him what he’s doing wrong, and I’ll tell him how to get better. I don’t want to be like ‘oh I got you here, I got you there’ type stuff. I just try and coach them up as best as possible.”
When asked about last year’s game against Notre Dame, Williams said he had a knot in his stomach when he was walking back into the tunnel after the defeat. While the season ahead of the team is important, the first game is the one they are focused on.
“I think we all understand the pain of last year and that we are all hungry for a winning season,” Williams said. “They tell us to take it week by week. Right now we’re focused on Notre Dame.”